Indonesia has struggled to contain its forest fires, especially on the islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan with some progress being made but still a long way to go.
For as long as some of the new generation can remember, some of the Southeast Asian countries – mainly Indonesia and its neighbors, Malaysia and Singapore and to some extent some of the other SEA countries, Thailand and Vietnam– have been affected by a recurring wave of haze every year.
This seasonal phenomenon has been around for many years, but 2015 seems to be the worst year so far.
What’s to Blame For Indonesia Forest Fires?
At the root of the problem is the slash and burn farming technique, the traditional method of restoring fertility to the lands after a harvest which involves the burning of vegetation. The affected area is mostly made up of peat soil which is highly flammable. This leads to localized fires spreading to areas wider than just the intended farmland and becoming uncontrolled forest fires.
Burnt peat releases hefty amount of carbon particles into the air due to the substance’s high density and carbon content.
As for who is mostly responsible for these forest fires, it is still open to speculation with all the involved parties pointing their fingers at everyone else. The small time farmers blame the big businesses, and the government is also taking fire for not playing a bigger role in preventing it in the very first place.
According to the environment group WWF Indonesia, all parties are to blame. Conducting extensive research into the forest fire problems over many years, the group has come to the conclusion that the forest fires are caused by “collective negligence” of corporations, local farmers, and the government.
Another factor responsible for exacerbating the situation is the El Niño phenomenon causing drier conditions all across SEA. These conditions accelerated the rate at which the forest fires are spreading.
Indonesia Economy, Citizens, and Environment All Affected
These causes have started a chain of events which have brought about negative consequences in not only Indonesia, but the rest of ASEAN, in terms of the economy, the people, and the ecology.
The damage is most obviously seen in how the landscape of Indonesia changes every year. Entire forests disappear along with its inhabitants, especially when the forests represent some of the most extensive and diverse habitats. One particular animal that is in fact being further endangered is the orangutan.
Another species most affected by forest fires are Homo sapiens ourselves. The haze from forest fires have already claimed 19 lives this year with over 500,000 recorded cases of respiratory tract infections. Just in the region alone, the worsening atmospheric conditions are expected to bring about over 100,000 premature deaths.
The economic damage of the fires is also severe. Current estimates by the Indonesia government put the number at US$47 billion, and rising with each passing day. This is indeed a massive blow to the country’s economy. A considerable proportion of the loss comes from the from the reduction in agricultural productivity, a direct result of the forest fires.
With such negative impacts both to the home country and its neighbors, the Indonesian government has decided to step up its efforts to control the damage and to try to prevent it from recurring.
The government is trying to hold accountable the firms that can be proven to have had a direct effect causing the fires. In September, Indonesian authorities arrested seven executives in connection with the fires.
It is also actively trying to reduce – if not, end – the practice of slash and burn farming. By understanding the reasons why farmers resort to this type of practice, the government is now putting efforts into dissuading the practice by offering training and incentives to use safer methods.
The increased participation in preventing forest fires directly stems from the fact that in September of last year, Indonesia ratified the ASEAN agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution. This agreement will leave the country vulnerable to legal action if it does not actively step up its efforts to stop this repetitive occurrence.
Experts on the topic are expecting to see some effects of the government’s actions in 2016 and are monitoring closely.